Synaptic Structural Modification Following Changes in Activity Induced By Tetanus Neurotoxin in Cat Abducens Neurons

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A low or a high dose of tetanus neurotoxin (TeNT) injected in the lateral rectus muscle of the cat causes respectively, functional block of inhibitory synapses only or of both inhibitory and excitatory synapses simultaneously in abducens neurons (González-Forero et al. [2003] J. Neurophysiol. 89:1878–1890). As a consequence, neuronal firing activity increases (at low dose) or decreases (at high dose). We investigated possible structural modifications of inhibitory synapses in response to these activity alterations induced by TeNT. We used immunofluorescence against postsynaptic (gephyrin) and presynaptic (vesicular γ-aminobutyric acid [GABA] transporter [VGAT]) markers of inhibitory synapses in combination with cell type markers for abducens motoneurons (calcitonin gene-related peptide or choline acetyltransferase) or internuclear neurons (calretinin). Seven days after high-dose treatment, the number of gephyrin-immunoreactive (IR) clusters per 100 μm of membrane perimeter was reduced on the soma of abducens motoneurons by 55.3% and by 60.1% on internuclear neurons. Proximal dendritic gephyrin-IR clusters were also significantly altered but to a lesser degree. Partial synaptic re-establishment was observed 15 days post injection, and complete recovery occurred after 42 days. Coverage by VGAT-IR terminals was reduced in parallel. In contrast, a low dose of TeNT caused no structural alterations. With electron microscopy we estimated that overall synaptic coverage was reduced by 40% in both types of neurons after a high dose of TeNT. However, F-type terminals with postsynaptic gephyrin were preferentially lost. Thus, the ratio between F and S terminals diminished from 1.28 to 0.39 on motoneurons and from 1.26 to 0.47 on internuclear neurons. These results suggest that the maintenance of proximal inhibitory synaptic organization on central neurons is best related to neuronal activity and not to the level of inhibitory synaptic function, which was equally blocked by the high or low dose of TeNT. J. Comp. Neurol. 471:201–218, 2004. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.



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